Drop in Aussies seeking hepatitis C cure

More than 170,000 Australians are able to access subsidised medication to cure Hepatitis C but the number of people choosing to do so is declining.

Three months after starting medication to treat hepatitis C Frank Carlus was cured of the disease that claimed his mother's life.

He describes the cure as a godsend, but for his mother the stigma associated with a disease often linked to risky lifestyles was a barrier to her seeking treatment.

Hepatitis C can cause liver cancer, cirrhosis and death and while cures are available there's been a rapid decline in the number of Australians taking up treatment.

"It's important that people are able to access treatment without fear of being stigmatised, without fear of being discriminated against," Mr Carlus said, promoting a national partnership aimed at eliminating the disease by 2030.

Hepatitis C medications are subsidised by the government until 2021, but 170,000 eligible Australians have not yet begun treatment.

Since 2016 58,000 people have sought treatment, with 43,000 of those in the first 15 months and declining numbers since.

An $11.3 million grant and partnership hopes to turn that around.

Eliminate Hepatitis C Australia brings together scientists, researchers, government, health services and community organisations for the first time.

Chief investigator Margaret Hellard told AAP she hopes to see 15,000 people a year accessing treatment to reduce the number of people dying and the rate of transmission.

"Australia is one of the few countries where we can actually eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat," she said.

Part of doing that is through awareness of the new treatments which are highly effective and require taking between one-and-three tablets a day for up eight to 12 weeks.

"It's not like the yucky old drugs, and it is available to anybody no matter how long they've had it or whether they still do drugs," she said.

The infection is common among people who inject drugs, so treating those using syringes in unclean environments reduces the risk of transmission, she said.

Risk of infection is also higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, prisoners as well as gay and bisexual men.

Ensuring health practitioners are aware of the treatment, who is eligible and how to treat patients with hepatitis C is also part of the plan, being launched by Health Minister Greg Hunt in Canberra on Wednesday night.

It's hoped the partnership will result in a 65 per cent reduction in hepatitis C related deaths and an 80 per cent reduction in new infections.

HEPATITIS C BY NUMBERS:

* 58,000 people treated since 2016

* 170,000 people still yet to seek treatment

* Medication funded until 2021

* $2.4 billion estimated cost to Australia of not seeking treatment.

Source AAP

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